How Do I Choose My First Fly Rod?

An angler inspects a fly rod.

One of the biggest challenges new fly anglers face is deciding how to choose their first fly rod. Even some seasoned anglers continue to refine their preferences in a rod, so it’s understandable that those new to the sport find the process challenging, if not overwhelming. 

But thinking about how you’d like to fish, which species you’ll target, and where you’ll fish most often will help you narrow the choices significantly and find a first fly rod you’ll enjoy. 

For instance, if you want to fish for:

  • Trout: Look for a 5WT or 6WT rod (WT = weight). 
  • Bass: Look at 6WT and 7WT rods. 
  • Steelhead and salmon: Go bigger and look in the range of 7, 8, and 9WT rods.

How Long Should My First Fly Rod Be?

Along with different weights, fly rods come in a variety of lengths, too. Many nymph fishermen like longer rods to help them mend line and keep more of the fly line off the water while maintaining drifts.

Small-stream anglers tend to like rods in the 6–7’ range because smaller rods are easier to navigate through brush, and they’re ideal for making short casts. Generally speaking, a rod in the 9’ range is the most common and the most versatile of all the fly-rod lengths.

If you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for, try the most common first fly-rod size: a graphite 9’, 6WT rod. It’s not too light and not too heavy. It can be sensitive enough for dry fly fishing while providing enough power to turn over streamer flies.

You’ll be spending a lot of time with the rod in your hand, and it should feel good, match your unique style, and take you well beyond your first fish on a fly.

How Much Should You Spend On Your First Fly Rod?

Price is an undeniable variable when it comes to fly rods. They can be extremely affordable or extremely expensive. Think about it like car buying: They all serve the same purpose but vary widely in price due to components and features.

Fly rods are made of a variety of materials. Graphite is the lightest and most common. It accommodates most casting styles nicely. For a slower casting stroke, fiberglass is a great choice.

Bamboo rods offer the most delicate and personal choice in fly-rod selection. Some graphite rods cost more than bamboo, and some bamboo rods cost more than used cars.

What’s Right Is Up To You

In the end, spend what you can afford. Your first rod doesn’t need to cost a lot. Once you get started casting and get to know your own foibles and the intricacies of your fishing style, you may want to pick up another rod.

These days, few fishermen have just one rod. Like any tool, different rods are designed to do different things well. It’s natural to discover the rod or rods you own don't perform as well as you’d like in one specific situation.

Maybe your midsize river 9’ 5WT trout rod casts dries, nymphs, and smaller streamers well, but you just discovered you really like throwing big, heavy streamers on a larger, windy river, where a 6 or 7 WT would be the better choice. Adding another rod to your quiver is something that simply comes with the territory.

When it comes to buying your first fly rod, information is key. Searching online for customer or blog reviews is a great way to gauge other people’s satisfaction with a specific rod if you live in a place where you can’t hold and test rods in a store. Or, if anyone you know has a few rods, ask if you can try them out.

And if you want to talk to someone who can help guide you through your decision, give one of our Orvis experts a call, or chat with us online. Once you understand your options and narrow down the type of fishing you’d like to do, choosing your first fly rod will become a much easier task.

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